Butker delivers again
Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker’s contributions ought not be forgotten. The senior was 3-for-3 from 40, 39 and 35 yards. His first two kicks gave Georgia Tech its first lead at 3-0 and then doubled it to 6-0. At a time when Lane Stadium was looking for a reason to weigh in, and the Jackets needed a little confidence and momentum, Butker came through. Of seven kickoffs, four were touchbacks and only one of the other three got past the 25. That was the opening kickoff, which, because it was returned, fortuitously provided Terrell Lewis the opportunity to strip returner Der’Woun Greene and gave the Jackets the ball at the Hokies’ 38-yard line.
Butker, by the way, cleared 300 points for his career, becoming just the third player in Tech history to reach that mark, joining fellow kickers Luke Manget (322 points) and Travis Bell (321). Butker is at 311 with three games remaining, including a bowl game.
Winning field position
Special teams and defense contributed superior field position twice, giving the offense a head start to score 10 critical points. The opening kickoff fumble recovery put the Jackets at the Hokies’ 38-yard line, leading to Butker’s field goal.
Punter Ryan Rodwell’s 54-yard punt late in the second quarter flipped the field and, after a four-and-out, the Jackets started at the Virginia Tech 34-yard line. Given the trouble that the Jackets – and most teams – have against the Hokies defense, the less distance needed to travel to score, the better, obviously.
Consider this: Prior to Saturday, because of the defense’s inability to force three-and-outs or turnovers and special teams’ not making any field-flipping plays, the Tech offense had started inside its half of the field on 74 of its past 75 possessions, a stretch going back to the end of the Vanderbilt game.
Contributions from front four
The defensive line was accountable, combining for all five sacks of quarterback Jerod Evans. Anree Saint-Amour (two), Patrick Gamble (1 ½), Francis Kallon (one) and KeShun Freeman (1/2) were all involved. The defensive line had seven sacks coming into the game for the season. Gamble was particularly effective beating blocks and creating pressure from the interior. Freeman had two hurries.
The Jackets also made effective use of a few heavy blitz pressures to force incompletions, high risk/high reward plays that paid off Saturday.
“(Evans) is a great quarterback, but d-line and linebackers – secondary, we’re just really playing off those guys,” said cornerback Lawrence Austin, who had a career day with two interceptions and a forced fumble. “Those guys had him fidgeting the whole game, so I’m just very proud of the d-line, linebackers.”
Georgia Tech had just its fifth five-sack game of coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, according to sports-reference.com. The last was in 2013, against Georgia.
No Miracle on Research Center Drive
Austin was thinking the same thing that probably just about every Tech fan was thinking when his twin brother scooped up the blocked field-goal try in the second quarter.
“I thought Lance was about to do another Florida State play,” he said.
Unlike against the Seminoles and kicker Roberto Aguayo, Austin was unable to elude Hokies kicker Joey Slye.
That said, a pretty strong game from the Austins. Lawrence became the first Tech player to have two interceptions in a game since 2011 and also had a forced fumble, set up by Lance holding up wide receiver Bucky Hodges. Lance recovered the fumble and also had two pass breakups, one on a pass into the end zone to Hodges.
The Austins have had their struggles in pass coverage with the rest of the defense in recent weeks.
“It’s a great feeling just being able to just play good, me and him, anybody on the field,” Lawrence Austin said. “I celebrate all the other 10 guys like my brothers, as well, so I celebrate with them just like I celebrate with my twin brother.”
Out of the 20’s
Georgia Tech’s 30 points were the most that the Jackets have scored against Virginia Tech in Johnson’s tenure. Prior to Saturday, the Jackets had put up 30 points against every other ACC team except the Hokies (and Louisville, which they’ve yet to play).
The last time
The last time Tech won a road game (not counting the Ireland game): Georgia, 2014. Seven-game losing streak.
The last time Tech beat a ranked opponent on the road: Also Georgia, 2014. Three-game losing streak.
The last time Tech beat a ranked opponent anywhere: Florida State, 2015. Three-game losing streak.
The last time Tech beat a ranked ACC opponent on the road: Virginia Tech, 2006. Nine-game losing streak.
The respect that Johnson and Hokies defensive Bud Foster have for each other as adversaries was obvious in the comments that both made after the game.
“They do a good job,” Johnson said. “Bud’s a really good defensive coach, and they do a good job. They had changed a pretty good deal of how they played us the year before and so we had to try to change some things, and then when we did, they changed some things back.”
Said Foster, “I’ll say this – I think Paul Johnson did a really great job tonight. He was one step ahead of me. We were always trying to get our front moving, he was always trying to counter that. The first touchdown pop, they were doing a nice job loading things up and they got up to (the middle linebacker), who was our pitch player on that particular play. That’s what we’ve been able to avoid the majority of the time the last few years we’ve played these guys. The big play – they got two big plays against us and it was costly.”